With decision time around the corner, your high school senior needs your input.
by Anne Vaccaro Brady
Up until now, you may have taken a hands-off approach to the whole college admissions process. I know plenty of parents who consider applying to college a teen’s responsibility, or who trust their super organized, honors student when they claim they “have it under control.”
But if the whole process seems daunting to you, how do you think it looks to your 17-year-old?
I’m not advocating doing the work for your teen, and I only encourage handholding if you have a kid who refuses to get started. What I’m saying is that your student needs you. You’ve been there for them every step of the way since kindergarten, so why stop now? This is a big decision they shouldn’t make alone.
Still reluctant? Read on to find out more reasons to step in.
Paying for college Your teen needs to know who’s footing the tuition bill. If you’re paying all or part of it, don’t you want to be sure your money’s spent wisely? If your kid is on their own here, you’ll want to help them avoid getting saddled with too much debt after graduation.
How much you can afford to contribute affects where your student can go and how far. If your family figures out that there’s money to pay for tuition and room and board but nothing more, then colleges within driving distance should be filling up the list.
If funds are very tight, your teen might need someone, you, to explain the advantages of staying local for a year or two to save the money to finish at a school away from home.
Plus, financial aid forms all require parental information, unless your student is emancipated. If you want to keep the details about your income and savings to yourself, then you’ll need to fill out FAFSA and any other financial aid applications.
Visiting colleges Now that your senior has some acceptances in hand, they’ll want to visit those schools, or see them a second time. Who better to come along than you? You should see where your teen plans to spend the next four years or more.
You’ll likely hear and notice things your student will miss. Like that the college has only one dining hall, limiting food choices for a picky eater. Or that they’ll have to apply to their particular major at the end of freshman year at one school, but will be in the program from the beginning at another. Did they hear that there’s a tutoring center?
The reality check Your most important role may be the voice of reason. You know your teen probably better than anyone, and you’ll be able to say whether a change of scenery at a college far away and with all new faces is a good option.
Talk through why they’ve picked a certain major to be sure they understand what the program entails. A curious-about-everything kid needs you to tell them it’s okay to be undecided. By the way, it is.
Initiate a pro-and-con list if they’re having a hard time narrowing down their options or need to decide what their priorities are—such as rank of program, location, cost, size, high school alumni on campus, research opportunities, etc.
Do some extra research on your own. You might find that their top choice school doesn’t accept AP credits or offers only need-based aid they won’t qualify for. But you may also learn your senior is automatically eligible for a merit-based scholarship at another of their colleges simply based on their SAT or ACT scores.
Decision time National Acceptance Day is May 1. Between now and then, be the sounding board as your student waffles between options and changes their mind almost daily. As you gently offer your thoughts and guidance, remember this is about what’s best for your teen, not you.
Please share your opinion on a parent’s role in the college admissions process in the comments section below.